- With Mike Flanagan’s success with adaptations such as The Fall of the House of Usher, he may want to tackle other classics in the same miniseries format.
- Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland; or The Transformation: An American Tale is an excellent choice for Flanagan to continue explorations of complicated family dynamics, trauma and grief through the lens of horror.
- Wieland also is a bit of a mess of a novel, which leaves room open for Flanagan to make creative changes to fit his vision.
While Mike Flanagan has created original stories like Absentia and Midnight Mass, many of his most famous works are his adaptations of other novels and short stories, like his most recent The Fall of the House of Usher miniseries. In Flanagan’s adaptations, he does not shy away from making changes to the original text. This willingness to adapt and change classic works to fit more modern stories strengthens his works and the themes he chooses to explore.
Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland; or The Transformation: An American Tale, first published in 1798, is a lesser known American classic that would mesh well with Flanagan’s other adaptations. The novel focuses on explorations of complicated family dynamics, trauma and grief as seen in most of Flanagan’s work. Wieland in all its imperfections also leaves room for Flanagan to make creative changes to make the story fit whatever era he chooses.
Wieland’s Focus on Religion, Trauma and Grief Fits Mike Flanagan’s Oeuvre
Most of Mike Flanagan’s works focus on complicated family dynamics and the effects of grief, a common theme in many modern horror movies. Wieland provides the perfect opportunity for him to explore these themes further. Wieland is considered one of the United States’ first gothic novels. It features an isolated setting, a morally gray ventriloquist named Carwin and random spontaneous combustion ascribed to spiritual retribution early on. Wieland is an epistolary work in which Clara Wieland writes letters trying to make sense of a tragedy that has befallen her family: her brother Theodore murdered his wife, his children and his ward.
Like the Crain family in The Haunting of Hill House and the Usher family in The Fall of the House of Usher, the Wielands also have complicated family dynamics due to their isolation from the rest of society. Clara idealizes their isolation even though this isolation ultimately leads to her family’s downfall. Carwin’s ventriloquist pranks (seemingly harmless at first) lead the Wielands and their families to begin doubting reality, and a Flanagan series inspired by this novel could explore this liminal space even more.
Throughout the novel, Clara grapples with her brother’s actions, though the true extent of Theodore’s crimes is not revealed until later on. Instead, the reader only knows that a great tragedy has befallen the Wieland family, and Clara is trying to explain the events to unnamed friends in the aftermath as she tries to deal with her seemingly insurmountable grief. In her grief, she is not the most reliable narrator, and there is room in the spaces of her narrative for Flanagan to expand the story.
The novel is also begging for a post-colonial reimagining. The Wielands are rich, sequestered away in pretentious conversations debating hypothetical scenarios and ancient translations. Clara mentions multiple times that she and her brother never have to actually work due to their father’s wealth. In a seemingly throwaway line, Clara mentions that her father was a slave owner, meaning that her life of leisure was built upon other people’s suffering. Any adaptation of Wieland would need to acknowledge this truth, and Flanagan could further explore the rot at the core of the Wieland family similar to Flanagan’s exploration of Usher family’s crimes in The Fall of the House of Usher.
Wieland is also an important part of American literary history because it is one of the earliest novels to be “ripped from the headlines” — a common form of American media still in practice today in series such as the Law & Order franchise. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most novelists also attempted to attribute their works to real world inspirations, such as Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette, in order to increase their novel’s appeal and combat growing fears about the dangers of fictional novels on young minds — particularly upon the young minds of women.
As Neil K. Fitzgerald reveals in an exhibit on Philadelphia Gothic for the Library Company of Philadelphia, Charles Brockden Brown was likely inspired by the real life cases of James Yates and William Beadle murdering their families in 1781 and 1782, respectively. Like Theodore Wieland, both men claimed to have been ordered to murder their families by God.
Wieland Leaves Room for Mike Flanagan’s Creative Control
While Wieland is an important book in America’s literary history, it also is a bit of a mess. Many of the events are implausible, from miscommunications to the ways in which ventriloquism is portrayed. The spontaneous combustion does seem random, even though it ties in with the novel’s themes surrounding religion. There are also plot threads from the beginning of the novel dropped only to be hastily returned to in the epilogue.
Wieland’s messiness actually is a boon because it leaves room for Flanagan to bring his own spin to the narrative. In The Fall of the House of Usher, Flanagan brings together multiple disconnected stories from Edgar Allen Poe. Flanagan creates a narrative that works from these disparate elements, and he would likely be able to handle the weirder aspects of Wieland. Since Wieland is also a lesser known work, Flanagan would also have much more liberty to make changes. Wieland could be re-imagined as a modern tale. Since the novel is epistolary, modern characters could stumble across Clara Wieland’s writings, and Flanagan could also play with the timeline similar to his narratives in The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor and The Fall of the House of Usher.
Overall, Wieland would be an excellent choice for Mike Flanagan’s next project because it fits well with the themes and goals of his earlier works. Wieland could provide a lens to explore the American gothic and how the sins of the past can continue to reverberate throughout the generations. While Wieland does have some more ridiculous elements, Flanagan has shown in the past that he can make seemingly disconnected elements work, especially in service to his chosen themes of complicated families and grief.
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